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And We Go On: A Memoir of the Great War (Carleton Library Series) (1930)

by Will R. Bird

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In the autumn of 1915 Will Bird was working on a farm in Saskatchewan when the ghost of his brother Stephen, killed by German mines in France, appeared before him in uniform. Rattled, Bird rushed home to Nova Scotia and enlisted in the army to take his dead brother's place. And We Go On is a remarkable and harrowing memoir of his two years in the trenches of the Western Front, from October 1916 until the Armistice.When it first appeared in 1930, Bird's memoir was hailed by many veterans as the most authentic account of the war experience, uncompromising in its portrayal of the horror and savagery, while also honouring the bravery, camaraderie, and unexpected spirituality that flourished among the enlisted men. Written in part as a reaction to anti-war novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front, which Bird criticized for portraying the soldier as "a coarse-minded, profane creature, seeking only the solace of loose women or the courage of strong liquor," And We Go On is a nuanced response to the trauma of war, suffused with an interest in the spiritual and the paranormal not found in other war literature. Long out of print, it is a true lost classic that arguably influenced numerous works in the Canadian literary canon, including novels by Robertson Davies and Timothy Findley.In an introduction and afterword, David Williams illuminates Bird's work by placing it within the genre of Great War literature and by discussing the book's publication history and reception.… (more)
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This is a first rate memoir of fighting with the Canadian Corp in WW I from 1916 to November 11, 1918. Bird originally published this in 1930 but rewrote in for publication in 1967, the 50th Anniversary of the war's end.

In the 1930 edition, he tells of many incidents of his brother who died in the war before Bird enlisted, warning him of danger. Probably the most poignant is Bird resting in the basement of a house with fellow soldiers when his ghostly brother appears in the doorway beckoning him outside even though German shells are falling into the street. Warned by his comrades not to go out he did and as he looks around for his brother who has vanished, there is a devastating explosion in the basement he just left. Many men are killed and maimed. Cause? A rookie soldier was cleaning his rifle & fired it accidentally into the ceiling with the resulting ricochet hitting a pile of bombs.

Bird has many of these moments where a tap on the shoulder warns him to move from a spot where moments later a shell falls or machine gun bullets rake the spot. As well he documents the terror, filth, death and stupidity of the stagnant war on the Western Front. As the war progresses, Bird and his colleagues realize that German soldier is the same as them- humans who hate the war and just wish to go home. As a result, there are many scenes where soldiers from both sides allow enemy soldiers to escape death and even imprisonment. There are also horrific scenes of cruelty on both sides. As the Canadians free the Belgians from the German occupation, the civilians take out their anger over 4 years of German abuse by killing any German soldier they can catch usually in horrific fashion.

While the subject is bleak, this is a very readable book with language that flows. Critics claim this is a much more realistic view of life in the trenches then All Quiet on the Western Front.

For the 1967 version of the book which was entitled Ghosts Have Warm Hands, Bird dropped all but two references to the ghost of his brother saving him. He also eliminated several of the other soldiers who served with him and make their mark on the reader. ( )
  lamour | Jan 2, 2015 |
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In the autumn of 1915 Will Bird was working on a farm in Saskatchewan when the ghost of his brother Stephen, killed by German mines in France, appeared before him in uniform. Rattled, Bird rushed home to Nova Scotia and enlisted in the army to take his dead brother's place. And We Go On is a remarkable and harrowing memoir of his two years in the trenches of the Western Front, from October 1916 until the Armistice.When it first appeared in 1930, Bird's memoir was hailed by many veterans as the most authentic account of the war experience, uncompromising in its portrayal of the horror and savagery, while also honouring the bravery, camaraderie, and unexpected spirituality that flourished among the enlisted men. Written in part as a reaction to anti-war novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front, which Bird criticized for portraying the soldier as "a coarse-minded, profane creature, seeking only the solace of loose women or the courage of strong liquor," And We Go On is a nuanced response to the trauma of war, suffused with an interest in the spiritual and the paranormal not found in other war literature. Long out of print, it is a true lost classic that arguably influenced numerous works in the Canadian literary canon, including novels by Robertson Davies and Timothy Findley.In an introduction and afterword, David Williams illuminates Bird's work by placing it within the genre of Great War literature and by discussing the book's publication history and reception.

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